Catfood Bandits

One morning this week, these two little guys came romping along our fence purring and chirping at each other. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from this picture, but they were each about as big as a grapefruit. I’m glad we didn’t move their parents.

Somewhere along the Clarks River, there are two raccoons who hate me.

When the kittens adopted us in the fall, we moved them into our sunroom.  They have a warm hidey-hole with an old dog bed for cold nights, their litterbox, and all our porch furniture and firewood to romp and play on.  They also have their water bowl and food bowl.

In the spring, when it got warmer and they got restless being confined to the sunroom, we decided to let them go outside.  Since we never envisioned having cats here (and therefore had no cat door), the only real way to do that was to prop the people door open a few inches so that they could come and go.  This worked very well.  Hunter and Darcy were content and began happily exploring the back yard and surrounding environs.  Around this time, I noticed that we started going through their cat food.  Really going through it.  As in emptying the bag about twice as fast as previously.  Unusual, I thought, but probably just a symptom of growing kittens.  Their water bowl also was dirty most mornings, but again, I thought that was likely their doings.

I was wrong.  Now for some reason, it never occurred to me that strangers would come into our sunroom and help themselves to our kittens’ food.  Imagine my surprise when my darling one night called out in a stage whisper “I think there’s someone in the sunroom.”

Being in the study grading papers, I didn’t know what she was talking about.  So I went to ask.  She said it again.  “Oh good grief,” I thought.  “Why can’t the kittens go to bed and keep quiet so I can get some work done without being interrupted?”  I turned on the sunroom lights, opened the door, and stepped out to tell them to pipe down and go to bed.

Two of the biggest (and, I admit, prettiest) raccoons I’ve ever seen turned from washing their purloined cat food in the water bowl.  We stared at each other in momentary surprise.  I could just hear the bigger one saying “Do you mind?  We’re having dinner here.”  Then pandemonium ensued.  I yelled at them to get out.  They ran for the door, tripping over each other all the way.  It was almost a Keystone Cops moment.  In hindsight, it was probably hilarious.

And thus began a week of cat-and-mouse (no pun intended).  The raccoons would come to steal food, and I would chase them out.  We tried closing the door while opening the screen for the kittens.  That should have worked.  Unfortunately, while the raccoons couldn’t jump up to the screen, one of them could climb up, open the door latch, and then he and his buddy opened the door and continued helping themselves to the buffet.  We tried leaving the lights on, but the raccoons figured that one out and just went about their merry way.  We tried a couple of other things, but the little buggers were smart.  Anything we did to let the kittens in and out also let the raccoons in and out.  It was quickly turning into an arms race, and I felt like we were losing to wild animals.

We fell back to consider our options for a couple of days, during which Hunter and Darcy were chased out of their room each evening at sunset.  The night they came to the kitchen door meowing pitifully, afraid to go into their own room, I actually considered borrowing a neighbor’s gun and just killing the invaders.  Fortunately, my darling pointed out that I may be an okay shot with my BB rifle, but shooting a real gun in the sunroom was probably not wise.  We looked into trapping and relocating them, but I was afraid that they were a mated pair with kits somewhere.  We didn’t want to leave their babies to starve to death.

Finally, Mary Anne said, “You know.  We should just get an electronic pet door with collars for the kittens.  That way they can come and go, but the raccoons can’t come inside.”

“I don’t want to put collars on cats who go outside,” I said.  “They might get caught on something and get hurt or starve to death themselves.”

“Well, we have to do something,” she said.

That night, I suddenly woke up at 3 a.m.  “She’s right,” I thought.  “But there’s no need to put collars on them.  An RFID chip is an RFID chip.  I can’t be the only guy in the world who’s thought of making that door scanner just read their identification chips rather than fitting them with extra hardware.”

Sure enough, with about an hour’s searching, I found just the device.  There were a couple of companies making them, but I settled on the SureFlap Cat Door.  We ordered it the next morning from Amazon, and waited for it to arrive.  When it was delivered, I took it straight to Murray Animal Hospital who tested it with their microchips.  It worked like a charm.  I made an appointment on the spot for Hunter and Darcy to get their own chips the next day.

The Sure Flap electronic cat door has made our cats feel much safer in their room. The door reads their ID chips, and the little gray latch opens only for them. No more invaders stealing their food.

That night, I helped the kittens chase away the intruders from their last stolen meal.  The next day, we went for their new jewelry, and I cut a small hole in the wall beside the people door and installed their new private entrance.  With a bit of coaxing, they learned to put their heads in the tunnel and wait for the lock to click, then to go right on through.  Problem solved.

The story does have an epilogue, though.  The next night, my darling called out quietly, “I think the raccoons are back.”  Sure enough, one of them had climbed up and opened the door latch again.  He ran away as soon as we turned on the lights.  We stacked blocks in front of the door and covered the screen.  After he tried and failed to move the blocks, he’s not been back.

P.S.  I don’t want to leave the impression that we begrudged the raccoons a meal.  They still have free access to anything they want to eat from my compost pile.  Judging by how quickly things disappear from it, they’re doing just fine.

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Becoming Mom

When our perfect bundle of joy arrived, I was unprepared to become someone’s mom.

I didn’t play with dolls. Instead I preferred to dye their hair green.

We were in our late twenties when we got married. With plenty of time to have children, we didn’t rush to become pregnant. By the time I was in my 30’s and had three miscarriages, I decided that motherhood wasn’t for me.  After all, being an aunt was fun without the responsibilities of parenthood. And I was good at it; babies were happy, and siblings were grateful for any break they could get.

When I became pregnant with Sam, I didn’t get too excited because I didn’t expect to stay pregnant. There weren’t too many complications, but there was one night in my 12th week that I almost lost him. When the cramps began after dinner, I called our doctor. He told me to try to relax and he would see me the next morning. If necessary, he’d perform a D&C.

With my other pregnancies, I had never made it to the 12th week. I had never heard a heartbeat. I had never seen tiny images on an ultrasound. I had never named the life growing inside me. Although I couldn’t imagine actually giving birth, I couldn’t imagine losing something that had become so important.  As I hung up the phone, I couldn’t stop the tears.

As I told my beloved what the doctor said, I watched his face become determined. “So, we relax,” he said. Before I could pull myself together, he pulled out the sofa bed and turned on the television. I don’t know if it was actually the anniversary of the Titanic sinking or if the anniversary was quickly approaching, but A&E had scheduled a full night of Titanic programming. Always ready to watch anything about the Titanic, it was just the distraction I needed. We laid on that sofa bed and watched for hours.

My beloved is the type of person that likes to rub, pat, or massage whenever he’s near me. I tolerate it. As I became immersed in the television, he rubbed, stroked, and massaged my cramping body. Eventually, the cramps eased and the pain stopped. Unsure what it meant, we went to bed and waited for morning. When we got to the doctor’s office, we heard the sweetest sound: a strong and healthy heartbeat. I will always believe that my beloved saved our son with his gentle touch.

As the months progressed, I intellectually knew that I was having a baby. But somehow, I didn’t quite grasp that I was becoming someone’s mom. Sounds silly I know, but there it is. I read lots of books for technical information, but I didn’t prepare for the non-technical stuff like the art of cooing. The art of nurturing. The art of being a mom.

Then the big day arrived.

I conveniently went into labor at the doctor’s office. It wasn’t like the movies. I didn’t have a stabbing pain that made me double over. My water didn’t break. I just become very uncomfortable while sitting in the waiting room. I mentioned to my beloved (who went to every appointment with me) that with all the money those doctors charged, you would think that they would purchase chairs comfortable for pregnant women. Then the nurse called my name. As we walked in to get my blood pressure checked, I expressed my opinion about their choice of chairs to the nurse. She simply told me that she would tell the doctor. Feeling like I had made a difference for future pregnant women in Murray, I prepared to express my opinion again to the guy in charge.

“So our chairs are uncomfortable, huh?” said the doctor.

“They’re horrid,” I began.

“Um, I think our chairs are just fine. But they probably aren’t comfortable when you’re in labor.”

“In labor? I’m not in labor!”

“Yes, you are. I’m sending you over to the hospital.”

Twelve hours later, our perfect bundle of joy was born exactly on his due date, at exactly the hour I had predicted, conveniently at the end of the our doctor’s work shift.

I soon found out that all the technical stuff that I had studied so hard was garbage. And all the nurturing stuff– that I ignored because I thought it would come naturally with motherhood– would never be something I’d grasp. Thankfully, I had married a man who loved cooing and had more mothering instinct than I ever would.  His father once told me that my beloved was a wonderful “mama cat.”  Between the two of us, our son might not have the perfect parents, but we try.  We know that together, we can handle just about anything that comes along.

Most importantly, though, if we are good parents, it’s because we have a great kid who has taught us how to be the best — for him.

A Cat Tale

Our dog Daisy decided that Sterling  needed a family, so she adopted him.

For years, cats have found their way to Chez Medlock.

When we lived in our cottage on Poplar Street, there was a continuous stream of cats that adopted our humble abode.  Because I am extremely allergic to them, I never encouraged them to stay, but I soon realized that they couldn’t care less what I thought.  So they came. They stayed long enough to be given names, then they left.  My beloved often joked that we were part of some cat hobo network, and we must have received good ratings from the previous cats who lived with us.  Great.  Its one thing to be a good hostess to friends and family, but I really didn’t need the pressure of pleasing feral cats.

A few years ago, one of the cats had kittens in our garage.  We tried to make friends with the kittens, so that maybe we could socialize them enough to provide them “family planning” services.  We became particularly friendly with one fluffy gray kitten that we named Sterling.  Then, the momma cat moved the kittens.  A few months later, we noticed that we were being watched by a fluffy gray cat.  It never really came too close, but he was always there on the edge of the yard– watching.  Could it be Sterling, we hoped?

At the time, we were the parents of two useless basset hounds.  Don’t get me wrong, they were our bassets and we loved them completely.  But they basically existed so that we could financially support the dog food industry.  Interestingly, the female basset, Daisy, also noticed the fluffy gray cat.  Always ready to make friends, one afternoon she proceeded over, started wagging her tail, and poured on the charm.  Poor thing.  She didn’t know that cats don’t do charm.  For weeks, Daisy tried to make friends.  Then, she just decided to simply mother the poor thing.  Once Daisy made that decision, the fluffy gray cat didn’t have a chance.  It was now a part of our family.

My beloved adores cats.  He understands their nature so much more than I do.  For months, he coaxed, encouraged, and then finally begged Sterling to let him touch him.  Sometimes he would spend hours talking softly to Sterling, as he crept closer and closer.  Sterling, being a cat, ignored my beloved’s advances until he got tired of the game and scampered off.  When we worked in the yard, Sterling was always there with us — ignoring us and watching us at the same time.

Sterling never really got close to us, but he adored the bassets.  He ate with them, slept with them, and every afternoon when he came home from hunting in the meadow behind the house, the reunion was as intimate as any human family.  They hugged, they rubbed, and then Daisy would plop her big paw on him and proceed to give him a bath — from head to tail.  The love the three fur babies had for each other would often bring a tear to my eye.  Two worthless bassets and a feral cat.  Who would have thought they could make such a loving family?

One of their most charming antics was their afternoon naps. We kept a small dog house in their pen.  Bassets are big dogs, with the exception of their short legs.  So the process of stuffing themselves into this little dog house was entertaining.  We bought a larger dog house, but they had nothing to do with it.  They just kept stuffing themselves into their napping house, with a variety of  limbs or body parts hanging out the flap.  They were completely content.  When Sterling came along, there wasn’t any room for him, so he would drape himself over the top.  With paws and tail dangling, he’d nap above our snoring bassets.

Our happy little fur baby family existed peacefully for a few years.  On cold nights, when my beloved would go out and check on them, they would all be snuggled up in their room in the back of the garage, with their warming lamp and each other to stay warm.  The dogs would arouse to greet him when he walked in. Always at the bottom of the pile would lay Sterling, annoyed that someone had interrupted his evening’s repose.

Then one spring, we noticed that Sterling wasn’t around. When he would go missing for a day or two, we wouldn’t worry too much.  After all, in the springtime all tomcats go searching for love in all the wrong places.  But then a few more days went by, and we could tell that Daisy was worried too.  She’d stand in the yard and watch the meadow.  A few days later,  she had become listless and only wanted to lay beside the napping house.  When my beloved went to check on her, that’s when he found Sterling.  He’d crawled into the napping house and peacefully died, where his faithful friends would find him.  My beloved buried him beside the other fur babies who had passed.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, we have two new kittens who have adopted us.  They’ve been around a few months now.  They’ve frolicked their way into our hearts, just like Sterling did.  And while the worthless bassets have both passed on, too, our precious Alex adores the kittens and they adore him.  I wonder if we still have that napping house…

Feathering Our Nest

Our niece says that it will be hard to convince our readers that I don’t collect roosters. But I don’t. They collect me. There’s a big difference.

We’re trying to finish our kitchen.

We started construction on a new kitchen on August 8th. Then we stopped because we had to fight about it. Then we started again three days later. Let’s just say that we have the most patient contractor that ever lived. He’s used to us fighting about a project. He knows that once the fight is over, things will go just fine.

Our old kitchen was an unimpressive galley that was painted periwinkle. I love periwinkle. It’s the happiest of colors. But everything else in that kitchen was miserable. The problem was the lack of space and the fact that guests could only stand in the doorway and watch the chaos of us walking all over each other trying to cook. It didn’t take us long to realize that a major renovation was needed.

We dreamed of an open kitchen filled with sunlight. We dreamed of cozy corners and enough counter space for a gaggle of friends to gather. The problem became where to put it? For a few weeks, we thought about adding on. But an addition would block sunlight from the garden. Then fate decided to intervene.

We discovered that the refrigerator ice maker had been quietly leaking under the floors.  Under the kitchen floor, under the living room floor, and under the laundry room floor.  By the time we noticed something was wrong, thousands of dollars worth of damage had been done.  Now, we aren’t unobservant.  We’ve had water leaks in the past. But generally, a leak is accompanied by pools of water.  There was no water.  The only noticeable symptom occurred when our two-year-old hardwood floors buckled.  That’s when we knew we had a problem. We decided to start back at square one and rethink this whole project. And I am glad we did.

In the end, we enclosed our one-car garage, converting the space into a new kitchen and a new pantry. By doing that, we could convert the old kitchen into a home office/guest room with the old laundry room becoming a nice walk-in closet or future powder room and closet.  That gave us four bedrooms and, eventually, three bathrooms.  Bingo!

During the fall and winter, work slowly progressed.  And we’re thrilled with the results.  We have a large, open kitchen filled with sunlight and plenty of space for family and friends.  There’re still a few details to finish, but we’re getting there.  Now that the drapes are up, I feel like it’s a real room.  Cozy enough to be comfortable, efficient enough to save utility costs, and capable enough to handle any dinner party or canning frenzy I embark upon.

This weekend, I began decorating the space. Or as my beloved remarked, “You’ve feathered your nest.” He was joking about the decorative roosters that I’ve scattered around the room.  But he was right. I’ve feathered my nest.  And I’m pretty happy with the results.